Criminal Justice Unit
The Criminal Justice Program unit provides support for individuals with behavioral health challenges who are at the “front-end” of their involvement in the criminal justice system from initial contact with law enforcement through participation in problem-solving specialty courts. The programs within the Criminal Justice Program unit include the Veteran Initiatives Unit (VIU), Police-Based Initiatives (PBI), and Court-Based Programs (CBP).
- The VIU conducts assessments and treatment planning and support for U.S. military veterans through the Philadelphia Veterans Court and other justice points.
- The PBI provides supports for programming and strategic initiatives designed to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system in partnership with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) and Managing Directors Office of Criminal Justice, which includes Crisis Intervention Training for PPD officers, 911 Radio Room Triage, and Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) co-response work with PPD.
- The CBP work includes support for Civil Mental Health Court, First Judicial District Pre-Trial Services supports and connections to social services, and problem-solving courts like Mental Health Court and the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program Court (AMP). The CBP also facilitates a BHJD Resource Hub, a portal that enables justice partners and individuals to request behavioral health and social service supports.
The Criminal Justice Program unit also facilitates solution-based problem solving with city Criminal Justice System partners through multiple programs.
Civil Mental Health court is overseen by the First Judicial District’s Court of Common Pleas. It is governed by the Mental Health Procedures Act of 1976, the Pennsylvania law that establishes rights and procedures for treatment of mentally ill persons. Our responsibilities are to anticipate, assist, and resolve mental health issues as they arise. BHJD works closely with each court coordinator, hospital staff, the Family Resource Network, family members/other petitioners, as well as provider agencies on the patient’s behalf. To that end, we are supporting their family members and other petitioners who are not familiar with the mental health system. We can efficiently resolve many issues involving staff and placement while also helping to ensure the correct petition is filed. There are three court sites that we staff: Einstein Hospital, Girard Medical Center, and Friends Hospital. Present at each court is a MHRO (Mental Health Review Officer in lieu of a judge), a City Solicitor (hospital’s attorney), an attorney for the consumer (usually a defender association lawyer or at Friends a private attorney), various petitioner’s, hospital staff, and the consumers.
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is a collaboration between BHJD and Philadelphia Department of Police (PPD), to provide local police officers with a 40-hour curriculum designed to improve their ability to recognize people experiencing a mental health crisis, to de-escalate such crises, and to increase their consideration of non-justice referrals for people they encounter in a mental health crisis. This program has been operational since January 2007.
The Philadelphia Municipal Court Accelerated Misdemeanor Program is a neighborhood-focused court program designed to divert lower- level offenders from a standard trial track into appropriate community service and substance abuse treatment to serve low-level offenders with mental illness. Provider-based clinicians are embedded to perform in-court mental health screening at each of AMP’s five community locations using brief evidence-based screening measures to identify mental health needs, confirm previous engagement with the behavioral health system, and recommend treatment and services within the local community, as well as to coordinate between the justice and behavioral health systems.
The Veteran Initiatives Unit provides comprehensive guidance to Philadelphia’s veterans who have behavioral health challenges and justice system involvement and their families, aiding them in navigating healthcare systems, the criminal justice system, and community resources. This includes family support, housing, education, and employment. The VIU also works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Initially formed to serve Philadelphia Veterans Court, the VIU has expanded its focus to include identification, assessment, and linkage to treatment and other supportive services for veterans anywhere in the criminal justice system. The VIU now engages every veteran who is deemed ineligible for Veterans Court, offering assessment, linkage to treatment, and other supportive services. VIU staff also participate in a variety of presentations at many local events to educate the veterans’ community about VIU services. This program has been operational since October 2016.
The City of Philadelphia is developing a robust 911 Triage and Response Strategy, a collaboration among the Philadelphia Police Department, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the Managing Director’s Office of Criminal Justice. This strategy will enhance the identification and triaging of 911 crisis calls and improve the dispatch of a range of responder types depending on the nature of the call/event.
Implementation of the 911 Triage and Response strategy will ensure that individuals experiencing behavioral health crises in Philadelphia are responded to safely and connected with the most appropriate services and supports based on their immediate needs. The goal remains to safely deflect individuals with behavioral health needs away from the justice system and into more appropriate behavioral health care, medical care, or social services in the community. As such, this effort is closely connected to the City’s broader criminal justice reform goals.
A collaborative effort among the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services (DBHIDS), and the Managing Director’s Office of Criminal Justice (MDOCJ), the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) program pairs a mental health professional with a CIT trained police officer to respond to behavioral health related police incidents. CIRT teams will be able to respond to calls directly from 911 dispatch, from patrol officers, or through self-dispatch to appropriate calls. CIRT mental health professionals will utilize engagement, assessment, de-escalation, crisis problem solving, and care coordination skills to resolve crisis situations. In addition to the CIRT teams, the program will have the support of Outreach teams staffed by resource coordinators and Certified Peer Specialists to provide immediate connections to treatment and community resources and short-term follow-up. CIRT will expand through FY 22 to increase coverage and shifts across the city.
Given the current COVID restrictions for in-person resource work that came in effect in March 2020, BHJD created a Resource Hub for justice partners and individuals to request assistance with linkage to supports and services. BHJD Navigator staff take referrals through a standardized on-line form which is filled out and submitted to a BHJD email address. Navigator staff monitors the mailbox and follows up with appropriate supports, including screening and linkage to treatment and other identified areas of need. Those resource linkages could include behavioral health screening and linkage to appointments and other social services assistance such as referrals to housing, employment assistance, education assistance, ID procurement and benefits.
Click for more details about the Resource Hub.